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Fall Album Roundup : Debbie Harry: Candy-box Pop

November 23, 1986|KRISTINE McKENNA

"ROCKBIRD." Debbie Harry. Geffen.

Debbie Harry, the gorgeous hood ornament that adorned the seminal punk band Blondie, reigned supreme in the late '70s and early '80s as she blueprinted an innovative pop formula that resulted in the group's string of superb hit singles.

A classic tramp beauty of the Monroe variety, Harry was never more than an adequate vocalist, but she had a sense of humor, killer cheekbones and attitude to burn. Always in touch with the streets from which she rose, she and Blondie scored a hit with a reggae song, had the first rap crossover hit and forged a successful blending of punk and disco. She always dressed really well too.

A series of personal problems forced Harry into a lengthy sabbatical from recording that ends with this, her first LP in five years. I hate to say it cause it ain't right and it ain't fair, but Madonna--who stole some of her best moves from Debbie--may well be doing a better version of Debbie than Debbie herself is currently capable of. "Rockbird" is the kind of musical candy box that requires a strong video in order to hit pay dirt and it remains to be seen if Harry--now 40--will be able to give Madonna a run for her money in that department.

Framed with frothy production courtesy of Seth Justman (keyboardist with the J. Geils Band), "Rockbird" finds Harry singing as sweet as ever, but the material she's working with is fairly marginal. "French Kissin'," the LP's first single, is a languorous lullaby that stands out in that it's the only song that refrains from racing along at an anxious clip. (It's also the only song that doesn't have a Harry writing credit.)

For the most part, the songs--which tend to be about ne'er-do-well boyfriends and romantic escapades--are tethered to jacked-up rhythms that don't go down so well on the dance floor. There may be no grooves in the grooves, but "Rockbird" is chock full of the kind of songs that 14-year-old girls delight in singing, so maybe Harry will score on that front. At this point, her fate seems to depend on the whims of the powers that be, which is to say, the programmers at MTV.

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